Nebraska Preview: #7 Cornhuskers at #11 Wisconsin
Most college students wait until after Thanksgiving to experience their toughest exams during finals week. But for the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, their biggest tests of the 2016 regular season start this week with the first of back-to-back match-ups with highly ranked opponents.
The #7 Huskers (7-0/4-0) head to #11 Wisconsin in sole possession of first place in the West Division of the Big Ten Conference, but with some serious questions about the difficulty of their schedule so far. Nebraska's first seven opponents of 2016 are just 20-30 combined, and to silence the doubters, the Big Red needs a big win on the road Saturday.
The Badgers' (5-2/2-2) two losses came in back-to-back games, by just seven points each - at then #4 Michigan, and, in overtime, and at home against then #2 Ohio State.
Wisconsin will start a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Alex Hornibrook has played pretty well in some high pressure situations so far, but has only thrown for two touchdowns, while tossing four interceptions.
He'll get help from a healthy Corey Clement at running back. The senior has fully recovered from an ankle injury and ran for nearly 300 yards the past two weeks against Ohio State and Iowa.
Defensively, the Badgers are ninth-best in the nation overall, fourth best on third down. But they have been battling injuries, most recently to leading tackler Jack Cichy, who will miss the game Saturday.
There are some positives to report on the injury front for Nebraska.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp will play at Wisconsin after missing the last two games. Sophomore running back Devine Ozigbo should also play after missing last week's game against Purdue.
Meanwhile, the Huskers offensive line, banged up the past few weeks, should be a a little closer to being healthy, but still not at full strength. That will be one of the key story lines of the game Saturday.
After watching his team struggle to move the ball at times last week against Purdue, Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley says the Big Red offense needs to be more aggressive this week.
Camp Randall Stadium has not been kind to Nebraska in recent years. The Huskers have given up 107 points in their last two visits to Madison.
Kickoff is 6:00 PM, Saturday, in Madison. You can follow the Huskers live, all season long on ESPN 99.1. This week because of World Series coverage, the Nebraska game will be broadcast on 1140 KSOO-AM.
In last week's 27-14 win at home against Purdue, the Blackshirt defense got an early gift when Kieron Williams picked off a pass on the Boilermakers' first possession and Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong turned it into points on the first play from scrimmage, with a 22-yard touchdown run.
But that was one of the few highlights for the Huskers ground game, which was expected to run wild against the Big Ten's worst rushing defense, but managed just 157 yards.
Down 14-10 at intermission, Nebraska did respond with 17 unanswered points in the second half. Two big plays keyed the rally - a 40 yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to De'Mornay Pierson, and an Alonzo Moore 24-yard end around for a score.
The defense also played better in the second half, limiting Prudue to just 87 yards of total offense, while forcing a pair of punts, holding on fourth down three times, and picking off David Blough once (Williams).
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the Purdue win and week's match-up with Wisconsin: